Saturday, June 24, 2006

America on the decline?

While the media is agog with stories of China and India rising and becoming great economic powers, America's decline as a technological innovator (and obliquely as a power) is also being discussed a lot these days. Recently, Newsweek ran a cover story on this theme titled, Can America Compete?

Writes international editor of Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria:

"Well, Americans have replaced Britons atop the world, and we are now worried that history is happening to us. History has arrived in the form of "Three Billion New Capitalists," as Clyde Prestowitz's recent book puts it, people from countries like China, India and the former Soviet Union, which all once scorned the global market economy but are now enthusiastic and increasingly sophisticated participants in it. They are poorer, hungrier and in some cases well trained, and will inevitably compete with Americans and America for a slice of the pie. A Goldman Sachs study concludes that by 2045, China will be the largest economy in the world, replacing the United States.

It is not just writers like Prestowitz who are sounding alarms. Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, reflects on the growing competence and cost advantage of countries like China and even Mexico and says, "It's unclear how many manufacturers will choose to keep their businesses in the United States." Intel's Andy Grove is more blunt. "America ... [is going] down the tubes," he says, "and the worst part is nobody knows it. They're all in denial, patting themselves on the back, as the Titanic heads for the iceberg full speed ahead."

"Much of the concern centers on the erosion of science and technology in the U.S., particularly in education..."

In another relevant story, "The fast-fading luster of the American story" in IHT,
Nathan Gardels and Mike Medavoy conclude that America's soft power (its cultural exports) is on the wane. I have been thinking along these lines, and their ideas strike a chord with me--didn't somebody great minds think alike?

"This vast influence of American culture in the world is what Harvard professor Joseph Nye has called "soft power."

Now, however, we are witnessing a mounting resistance, particularly from Asia and the Muslim world, to the American media's libertarian and secular messages.

There is also resistance to the mere fact of America's overwhelming cultural dominance. Josef Joffe, the publisher-editor of the German weekly Die Zeit, has put it directly: "Between Vietnam and Iraq, America's cultural presence has expanded into ubiquity, and so has resentment of America. Soft power does not necessarily increase the world's love for America. It is still power, and it still makes enemies."

If, as Nye has said, politics in the information age is about whose story wins, America's story, which has won for so long, is losing its universal appeal.

Fewer and fewer are buying into the American narrative. Needless to say, that has big implications for America's storyteller - Hollywood - as well.

America's soft power is losing its luster for several reasons."

Now read on to know those reasons. The piece is thought-provoking.

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